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POLICE

Violence against women: A look at the Swedish government’s 40-point plan

Sweden's government has announced a nationwide plan to fight male violence against women after several recent killings of women by their current or former partners. The proposals include tougher sentences but also preventative work.

Violence against women: A look at the Swedish government's 40-point plan
The proposals include strengthening sentences for several crimes against women, but no concrete support for shelters. File photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The government says that its measures are intended to work towards the following goals: “Violence must be prevented and the men who commit crimes against women must be punished. Women who are exposed to crime should get the help they need.”

“This is the most comprehensive package against men’s violence against women for at least 20 years,” Justice Minister Morgan Johansson told a press conference where he announced the measures with Minister for Gender Equality Märta Stenevi and Interior Minister Mikael Damberg.

Märta Stenevi said efforts are needed to change norms “so that no boys will grow up and become men who beat and rape”.

Preventative work 

The measures include a national focus on violence prevention, including initiatives aimed at sharing knowledge and strengthening cooperation between relevant authorities. This includes both early stage preventative work (to stop men at risk of violence from committing crimes) but also initiatives to reduce the risk of re-offending.

From autumn 2022, school curriculums will be changed so that the subject that was previously called “sex and relationships” will also address gender equality. And the government proposes initiatives to raise awareness of its consent law, which makes explicit in legislation that passivity does not equal consent.

As well as schools, sports associations were highlighted as a part of society to be involved in preventative work, and Sweden’s Center for Sports Research (CIF) will be asked to identify opportunities to introduce anti-violence initiatives.

Better victim support

The government pledged to review “possible ways to provide women’s and girls’ shelters and other non-profit organisations that work with crime victims better planning conditions” but stopped short of promising funding. One of the challenges these organisations face is their reliance on donations and government support, which is often only guaranteed for a fixed time, therefore making long-term work difficult.

It did say that it would review the need for more funding for The National Center for Women’s Peace (NCK), which runs a phone line for victims of crime and which reported an increase in calls in recent years.

And it noted: “Women exposed to violence should not have to leave a shelter and return to the perpetrator of violence because they lack a permanent home.” An inquiry will therefore look into municipalities’ responsibilities in providing housing for women and children exposed to violence, for example whether people in this situation can be prioritised.

Vulnerable groups

The report outlined the need to support particularly vulnerable groups, including those who are involved in pornography and victims of human trafficking, but also foreign residents who are in Sweden on a permit based on their relationship. 

“In some situations, there needs to be an opportunity to grant a person a residence permit despite the fact that the relationship on which the permit was based on has ceased, e.g. due to violence in the relationship,” it noted, saying that an investigation will be launched into possible changes to Sweden’s migration laws to protect these people from the threat of deportation.

Stricter penalties

The proposals also include tougher penalties for crimes including rape, hate crimes with a gender motive, violation of a woman’s integrity, and soliciting. Some of these harsher penalties had already been submitted, others are currently being investigated and some will now be added to the agenda.

One example of a review that the government says it will now act on will see punishments of fines for paying for sex removed, so that the crime is punishable by imprisonment only. The government now plans to put this to parliament.

And as well as increasing the sentences, the government proposes lowering the threshold for issuing restraining orders, making it easier to use electronic tags on people subject to restraining orders, and increasing the punishment for violating such orders.

And the government will investigate whether it should be made easier to deprive perpetrators of contact with their children. 

“We have far too many cases where women live with a protected identity, but still somehow have to solve the issue of contact with the father. We must move away from the view that the man does not hit his children and therefore should have contact with them,” said Johansson.

Improving skills and methods used by authorities

When The Local has spoken to people working in the field of male violence, a commonly raised obstacle is limited understanding of how to deal with these crimes by police and other authorities.

Seven of the 40 measures outlined by the government relate to development of skills and methods, including more in-depth statistics on violence against women; skills development within the police including improved understanding of mental health issues and how to work with other agencies or social services; mapping the research currently being done into violence against women, and a review into the situation for women and children who have been exposed to violence and are living under a protected identity.

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CRIME

Swedish terror attacker sentenced to psychiatric care

A court has sentenced the far-right extremist Theodor Engström to psychiatric care for the knife attack he carried out at the Almedalen political festival this summer.

Swedish terror attacker sentenced to psychiatric care

The Gotland district court found the 33-year-old Engström guilty of murdering the psychiatrist Ing-Marie Wieselgren, but did not agree that the murder counted as a terror attack.

It did find him guilty, however, of “planning a terror attack”, for his preparations to murder the Centre Party’s leader, Annie Lööf. 

“The murdered woman had a significant role [in society], a murder is always serious, and this had consequences both for Almedalen Week and for society more broadly,” the judge Per Sundberg, said at a press conference. 

The judge Per Sundberg announces the sentence on Theodor Engström on December 6th. Photo: Karl Melander/TT

But he said that the court judged that Sweden’s terror legislation was too restrictively drafted for her murder to count as a terror offence. 

“Despite Ing-Marie Wieselgren’s well-attested position within psychiatry, the court considers that her position as national coordinator at the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions is not such that her murder can in itself be considered to have damaged Sweden. The act cannot as a result be classified as a terrorist crime on those grounds.” 

The court ruled that Engström’s crimes deserved Sweden’s most severe sentence, a life sentence in prison, but found that due to his disturbed mental state he should instead receive “psychiatric care with a special test for release”. 

In its judgement, the court said that an examination by forensic psychiatrists had found both that there were “medical reasons” why Engström should be transferred into a closed psychiatric facility and that “his insight into the meaning of his actions and his ability to adjust his actions according to such insight were at the very least severely diminished”. 

It said that under Swedish law, a court could send someone to prison who was in need of psychiatric care only if there were “special reasons” to do so. 

“The court considers that it has not been shown that Theodor Engström’s need of psychiatric care is so limited that there is a special reason for a prison sentence,” it ruled. 

Lööf wrote on Instagram that the judgement was “a relief”. 

“For me personally, it was a relief when the judgement came,” she wrote. “Engström has also been judged guilty of ‘preparation for a terror attack through preparation for murder’. This means that the the court is taking the threat towards democracy and towards politicians as extremely serious.”

The fact that the court has decided that Engström’s care should have a “special test for release” means that he cannot be discharged from the closed psychiatric hospital or ward where he is treated without a court decision. 

The court must rule both that the mental disorder that led to the crime has abated to the extent that there is no risk of further crimes, and that he has no other mental disorders that might require compulsory psychiatric care. The care has to be reassessed every six months. 

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